Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Black Album - A Review

There was something scary about this book. Maybe it was the theme (religious fundamentalism) or the timing, (I started the book a day or two after Salman Taseer’s assassination) or maybe it was the honest truth that no matter where we live in the world, we cannot shut our eyes towards extremism and intolerance.

Set in the London of 1989, The Black Album tells the story of young Shahid who is torn between two extremes. He wants to live by a certain code of ethics and yet, he does not want to forfeit his freedom. Thus, he wants to maintain his relationship with Deedee Osgood, his lecturer at university and also, wage jihad on the white race with his Muslim friends. Kureishi describes an ugly side of London; a place rife with racism, drugs and intolerance where Shahid is torn between liberalism and fundamentalism.

1989 was the year when the fatwa against Salman Rushdie’s book, Satanic Verses, was passed by Ayatollah Khomeini. This fatwa provided Shahid’s new friends; headed by the philosopher cum wanna-be-cleric Riaz, a reason to protest against the injustice meted out by the white race towards the minorities. Shahid has a choice; he can either be with Riaz and his fundamentalist followers or against them.

Kurieshi portrays Shahid’s dilemma very aptly. Having grown up in London and exposed to a lot of things (drugs, alcohol, and sex) at a young age, it is difficult for Shahid to accept things at face value. He demands explanations, especially when his fanatic friends burn a copy of the Satanic Verses publicly but Riaz and his followers want blind obedience and not debate.

1989 was a year full of historic events with . There was the famous fatwa, which led to Iran breaking off diplomatic ties with the United Kingdom. Benazir Bhutto had come into power in Pakistan after Zia-ul-Haq perished in an air crash. The Berlin Wall was demolished. George H.W. Bush became the President of the United States. The war in Afghanistan came to an end and Russia made its exit, leaving behind destruction and religious fanatics.

The book touches on a sensitive issue which has gained literary attention after 9/11. There are many people like Riaz in Pakistan, also, who are gaining support among the masses. The sad part is that religion is being used by people like Riaz for political gains and not, as they make it appear, spiritual fulfilment.

The title of the book is after an album of Prince. Shahid is a huge fan of Prince and has a collection of all his works. The one mention of The Black Album in the book is when Chad, a fundamentalist Muslim friend of Shahid goes through the cardboard box containing Prince’s records.

Kureishi’s prose was crisp and moving. Unlike his other novels, The Black Album, had a grim feel to it and humour was almost non-existent. At times the discussions felt very sermonic. A little Kureishi humour was much needed. A good read and one which does make you think about the future. 

Photograph: Google Images

Friday, January 14, 2011

hApPy BiRtHdAy Bro!

It seems only yesterday when you went into kindergarten and I came to check on you during lunch time at school. It was your first day and you refused to come outside of the class. You had the most lovely golden curls as a child and you were an adorable little brother. Of course, you did break some of my toys (you know which ones) and I did bully you occasionally but most of the times, life was good. I remember banishing you from my room when I was a teenager (and you were my nosy little brother !) and refusing to let you touch my Sony CD Player (can you believe that?!). I can not forget your fights with Ali (whew!), can not imagine your lonely days once both Ali and myself left home for further studies and cannot, still, digest your love for Iron Maiden! You're a great friend, confidant, supporter, and little brother. Here's wishing you a very, very happy birthday. This year will bring a big change in your life and I pray that all your wishes be granted and you get all the success in the world (sniff!sniff! this is heavy duty emotional stuff!).

Oedipus Rex - A Pictorial

Hubby dear's final drama exam got done last week and both of us heaved a sigh of relief (me more than him I guess!). For his final drama exam, hubby dear played the role of Oedipus Rex in the Greek tragic play of the same name by Sophocles. The play was performed by the third year students of NAPA (the drama school where hubby dear used to study) and it was done in the classical format of Greek theatre with masks. Hubby dear's performance was great (and no bias here!) as King Oedipus and the play turned out remarkably well (read the review here). Here is a pictorial of the tragedy of Oedipus Rex.

The chorus (citizen of Thebes) with olive branches in their hands, wailing over the misfortunes that have plagued their city.
King Oedipus addressing the citizens of Thebes.
Creon, brother-in-law of Oedipus, tells the King of the oracle's prophecy. Thebes will only be rid of her problems if the murderer of the dead King Laius is either killed or banished.
Oedipus vows to find the murderer of the King he has replaced and carry out the necessary punishment.
The senior citizens of Thebes are puzzled over the prophecy and fear the worst.
Oedipus demands the citizens tell details, if they know any, of King Laius's murder.

Oedipus summons the blind prophet, Tiresias, for help.

Tiresias refuses to answer Oedipus's questions but when provoked by the King, he replies angrily that it is Oedipus, himself, who is responsible for the curse on Thebes. It is he, Oedipus, Tiresias tells all, who is committing the greatest sin; of being a murderer and a bed-fellow of his own mother. 

Oedipus is shocked and angry over Tiresias's accusation.

 Oedipus banishes Tiresias from his castle and accuses him of scheming with his brother-in-law, Creon.

      Creon tries to reason with Oedipus after hearing of the episode with Tiresias. He pleads and argues his innocence but Oedipus refuses to believe his side of the story. He orders that Creon be killed for his betrayal.
Senior citizens of Thebes try to reason with Oedipus who agrees to forgive Creon if only the latter leaves Thebes for good.

      Jocasta, wife of Oedipus and sister of Creon, hears of the argument between the two men. She demands an explanation from Oedipus.

Oedipus tells Jocasta of the prophecy of the Oracle and the scheming between Creon and Tiresias. 

He narrates his own story; how he left his land,Corinth, in order to escape from Apollo's prophecy which declared he would kill his father and sleep with his mother. Thus, he left his father and mother; Polybus and Merope.

Jocasta attempts to comfort Oedipus, telling him not to take prophets seriously. One such prophecy was made for King Laius also. It was foretold that his own son will kill him but all of Thebes knew that he was killed by bandits at a crossroad on the way to Dephi.

On hearing this Oedipus becomes distressed as he, too, had passed that road on his way from Corinth and laid to death a man whose appearance resembled that of Laius as mentioned by Jocasta. 

One man accompanying the King that day was alive. Only he could tell whether it was Oedipus who had killed Laius or a band of robbers, as everyone believed.

Oedipus ordered Jocasta to summon that man.
In the meanwhile a messenger arrives from Corinth, bearing news of the death of King Polybus.
Oedipus is relieved but distressed. His father died from natural causes but his mother, Merope, is alive and thus, the prophecy remains unfulfilled.

        The messenger tells Oedipus not to fear as both Polybus and Merope were not his biological parents. It was the messenger himself who delivered the child into the arms of Merope many years ago.

The messenger was formerly a shepherd on Mount Cithaeron and it was there that a shepherd from the Laius household gave him the baby. The baby's legs were bound with rope, the marks of which are on Oedipus's knee.

    Jocasta, realizing the truth, pleads with Oedipus not to investigate the matter any further as the truth will be devastating for all. But Oedipus persists in his search for the truth.

A distressed Jocasta leaves Oedipus and rushes into the castle.

     The shepherd is brought to the King. He begs Oedipus not to question him about the child but when the King threatens him, the shepherd reveals all. It was Oedipus whom Jocasta had handed over to the shepherd to dispose off so that the prophecy might never come true.
Oedipus curses fate and himself on hearing the truth and disappears into the castle.

Shortly afterwards, a messenger brings news to the people of Thebes that their Queen, Jocasta, killed herself. Oedipus went into a blind rage on seeing her dead and took the golden pins from her dress and stuck them into his eyes.

                                                              Oedipus - a sorry spectacle.

Oedipus asks Creon to banish him from the kingdom and thus, fulfill the prophecy.

Creon, who arrives just after the sad event of his sister's death, refuses to take any step without consulting the Gods first.

Oedipus begs Creon to look after  his two daughters. He laments on how this curse will ruin their lives and asks Creon to watch over them.Creon promises before sending Oedipus inside the castle. 

And this marked the end of Hubby dear's three years in NAPA. It was a long journey (for both of us) and I  am extremely proud of him! But his journey has only begun and we are greatly looking forward to all the exciting things that the future holds! :)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Read-a-thon 2011

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of reading. I was a born reader. Really! But there are so many books to read and so little time to read them until now. After I tied the nuptial knot with hubby dearest and decided to bid farewell to the corporate world in order to pursue more creative endeavours, reading became a top priority once again. I stumbled upon a reading challenge last year when Girl Detective posted the 15/15/15 challenge on her blog. It was fun to read in a group (sort of) and by completing a book a day, my reading speed improved tremendously and I devoured all sorts of books last year.

The most difficult part of my New Year resolutions was the book list for 2011. I came across many more challenges, each trying to outdo the other. There is the author challenge in which you read all the works of one author in a certain time period. Now if the author were Maugham, Alistair MacLean or Dostoyevsky, I would jump on board without a second thought. But all works of, for example, the Bronte sisters, Sheakespeare or Virginia Woolf can have disastrous effects. Bronte put me into such abject depression when I read ‘Jane Eyre’ (way back) that I have not picked up any of her works since. Reading Sheakespeare is a major task because I need to understand hidden nuances of the play thorough ‘Sheakespeare made easy’ books. As far as Woolf is concerned, hubby dear fears too much of her might turn me into a feminist!
My Booklist 2011 (so far)

There is the chunkster books challenge which provides one with the much needed courage to pick up those big, never ending books from the shelf and finish them, in a certain time period (and not a lifetime!). I have just one issue with this challenge; chunky books can’t fit into my hand bag or gym bag and one never knows when one might need to read. Challenge aborted.

The TBR challenge, to me, appeared extremely practical. We book lovers keep hoarding books which results in our reading books from the ‘new’ pile while the ‘old’ pile gets shifted at the back of the shelf. But am I inspired enough to follow it? Well, not really. Sometimes that new book is just too tempting!

So, how will I get my reading done this year? Well, I made my own list. And at present, I am trying to tackle it. It includes books from my TBR pile but I keep making additions whenever I end up buying a new book which is, I’m afraid, quite often! I tried to do an ‘Author of the Month’ challenge for myself last year. The aim was to read works of authors according to their birth months. This helped me read a lot of authors I used to overlook (read: ignore) when trying to decide on a new book to read. It helps me not only discover new authors but re-discover some old masterpieces (last year I rediscovered The Great Gatsby).

So, will I be able to cross my 2010 book list (link) this year without any challenges? I guess that’s my challenge! (And at present, there is no Woolf, or Bronte in my list!).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Literary New Year Party...was cancelled.

Last year Hunter S. Thompson hosted a literary New Year party for all the authors whose books I had read in 2009. Since I didn’t read any of Hunter’s books this year, there was no one to organize the event. But when I came back from my Islamabad Trip (where I was at New Year’s) I found a crumpled note on my book shelf.

If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn't matter a damn how you write”.

It was signed by Somerset Maugham.

His note made me think of all the stories I had read, the characters I met and the incidents both in and around the books I read in 2010. And if anyone, the authors should know how I felt about their books and whom I liked most in 2010.

“Dear Authors,

Thank you for giving me so much reading pleasure in 2010. Not all of you fall in the pleasure category, I’m afraid, but most of you did delight, surprise, and in some cases, inspire me.

The one person who brought a smile to my face, always, is P.G.Wodehouse. Yes, Plum (I know that the P in your name stands for Pelham which was contracted to Plum) you don’t need to act surprised on reading (or hearing this. I hope Thompson is not reading this letter out loud) this. I was so inspired by your writings that I’ve decided to try writing comedy though I doubt I can match the hilarity of Damsel in Distress and Carry on Jeeves. And since the day I picked up the Jeeves series, I am on a perpetual look out for a butler like him!

It was not just Wodehouse who brought a smile on my face; Dostoyevsky also managed to do that. I’m afraid I wasn’t able to read any of your works except The Village of Stepenchikovo and it was a bundle of surprise. There were certain points in the book when Opiskin’s antics irritated me so much I wanted to re-write the story and make Uncle Rostanev a little thick skinned and Sergey Aleksandrovich a little bold so as to give Opiskin (or Foma Fomich)  a taste of his own medicine. But this absurd tale with its myriad of confused characters and comical situations made for a very refreshing read. But it wasn’t on the same level as The Brother Karamazov, which was my favourite last year. I have planned to read two of your books this year. In fact, I am reading The House of the Dead currently (and enjoying it immensely!).

But not all the books I read were of a comic nature. I read Margaret Atwood’s, The Blind Assassin, which was far from being comic. It was an amazing read; the suspense was so subtle that when I reached the end, I was genuinely surprised. Another book which surprised me, not by the plot, but by the style of writing was Jack Kerouac’s, On the Road. I’m sure you scribbled a lot on secret notebooks, Jack, because your book also read like one big diary (I’ve started scribbling too!).

Jack’s book might have a diary feel to it (somewhat) but it was far from being autobiographical. I did read two autobiographies of the one author whose writings I admire immensely. Boy and Going Solo were very inspiring and they revealed the man (and the boy) behind Roald Dahl. That you could write both George’s Marvellous Medicine (GMM) and Switch Bitch is mind boggling and very, very inspiring! Mr. Dahl, you won’t believe it but I tried my hand at translating GMM in Urdu. I got really stuck when it came to translating this:

So give me a bug and a jumping flea,
Give me two snails and lizards three,
And a slimy squiggler from the sea,
And the poisonous sting of a bumble bee,
And the juice from the fruit of the ju-jube tree,
And the powdered bone of a wombat's knee.         

2010 was about discovering new books and new authors. Some of you became a part of my life and my book shelf in 2010. Ian McEwan, Nick Hornby and Hanif Kureishi are three such authors. On Chesil Beach, Juliet, Naked and Gabriel’s Gift have become one of my very favourite reads of last year.

A short novel, On Chesil Beach, was concise yet very beautiful. It was a painful read, all the more so because my honeymoon was the complete opposite. Juliet, Naked was a very fun, contemporary read. So was Gabriel’s Gift. In fact, among my first books of 2011 is Kureishi’s, The Black Album.  

I wonder if any of you is in suspense to know which book was my most favourite in 2010. Of course there is no competition, each one of you is a literary giant but still a human being!

I found E.M.Forster’s, A Passage to India, to be a close contender to being my favourite book. What a book! It is no small feat, Mr. Forster, to write a book which depicts the thoughts and feelings of Indians (both Muslims and Hindus) in pre-partition India towards the British. I felt small and insignificant as a writer after finishing the book. I have yet to watch the movie and hopefully, relive the book through it.

But the one book which swept me off my feet totally was Brideshead Revisited. And this book is my favourite read of 2010. I love everything about the book; be it the cover, the blurb, the plot, the story, the characters, the beginning, the middle, the end – everything! Thank you, Evelyn Waugh for offering the book to (and I quote) ‘.. a younger generation of readers as a souvenir of the Second War rather than of the twenties or of the thirties, with which it ostensibly deals’ (unquote).

Though belated, this letter is to celebrate the New Year. I have made a booklist and am looking forward to discovering and re-discovering some great literary works.

And Mr. Maugham, I am going to work harder at your advice.”

I folded the letter neatly and left it next to the crumpled note.